Grave matter

It is a matter of grave concern that the chances of an Indian newborn surviving its first day in the world are rather bleak. According to a report from the UK-based aid group Save the Children, of the one million babies worldwide who die on the very day they are born, 300,000 are Indian. 

This means that India accounts for a shocking 30 per cent of the world’s babies who die within hours of their birth. More worryingly, over half the total child deaths in India occur in the first month. It is evident that Indian babies are particularly vulnerable during their first day and month in the world.

Why are our babies so vulnerable? An important reason is that the health of pregnant and lactating mothers, which influences the well-being, indeed the very survival of the newborn is not a priority within Indian families. Given deep prejudices against women with the family and society, their health and nutrition is often neglected. A weak and unhealthy mother – India has the largest number of anaemic women in the world – gives birth to a frail child. It is well known too that particularly in rural India women deliver in the home rather than in a hospital. In the event of complications, there are no trained medical personnel to ensure the safe birth of the baby. In the circumstances, a baby’s first day in this world ends up being her last. New born babies need warmth and hygienic surroundings else they can fall prey to diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea. 

Since 1990 India’s infant mortality rate has improved. But this improvement isn’t enough as 300,000 babies are still dying annually on the day they are born. Improving the health of pregnant and lactating mothers is central to our fight to bettering the chances of survival of our youngest citizens. Besides, pregnant mothers must be encouraged to go in for institutional delivery to reduce both maternal and child mortality. Government programmes such as the Janani Suraksha Yojana and the Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram provide incentives to pregnant mothers to opt for institutional delivery.

However, the long distance to the health centre deters pregnant women from putting this programme to use. Besides, many rural women are still not aware of the benefits of institutional delivery. The government needs to educate women and their families  on how to avoid infant mortality.

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